The Unseen Tournament: AFR Captures the Copa Centroamericana
It can be tempting to write off any football tournament not named the World Cup, Copa America or European Championship as something of an excess. Without the most prominent international sides taking part, it can seem to the casual observer that tournaments outside of the most prominent few lack major stakes, with a trophy given out for the sake of giving out a trophy.
That perspective, while easy to slip into, is entirely misguided. No matter the venue, no matter the teams, no matter the players, international matches are perpetually imbued with history, culture, and aspiration, with fans always ready at a moment’s notice to display their national pride.
This past weekend, we took in the final round of the Copa Centroamericana, a tournament that serves as the Central American regional championship, with berths for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup and 2016 Copa América — the 100th anniversary of the famed tournament — up for grabs.
While those are significant stakes, the teams who took part aren’t the sort who regularly grab international headlines, with Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador among the most notable taking to the field.
Despite international media coverage being kept to a minimum, the reality is that for fans of these nations, this is their tournament. This is their opportunity to prove themselves against regional rivals, and to break their way into the upper-tier of the global game.
Curiously, while the tournament is Central America’s most compelling, the competition didn’t actually take place in Central America. Rather, the tournament was hosted by the United States, which is home to over 3 million Central Americans.
Last Saturday saw the tournament’s denouement — a tripleheader, comprised of the championship, third-place game and fifth-place match — take center stage at the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a building that has brought the world together for two Olympiads, located in the heart of a city that half a million Central Americans call home.
Staying true to its Olympic heritage, the Coliseum hosted an event that was far more than just an important cup competition — it was a festival of fútbol that served as a cultural nexus for the vibrant and diverse Central American communities in the area.
And while the American sporting press and English-language media in Los Angeles remained largely oblivious to the tournament and its import — sporting and otherwise — a crowd of nearly 42,000 watched Costa Rica lift the cup in a pulsating 2-1 victory over Guatemala.
It wasn’t the largest stage, and it didn’t garner newspaper headlines across the world, but for those fans taking part, it meant everything.
Video directed by Luis Sanchez. Check out his other work at his fantastic Vimeo account.
Words by Maxi Rodriguez and Zack Goldman